Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pour Moi

A few weeks ago I did some sewing for myself! I can't even remember the last time I sewed something for myself.  It was so much fun.  When your hobby becomes your business, your hobby can sometimes really feel like work.  Sewing for myself reminded me that I do really love sewing! 

I made myself a couple of nighties/slips to wear to bed.  I did one in cobalt blue, with some lace overlay, and one in plum, with some strapping which is so popular right now.

I also fiddled around with a new pattern.  It's not quite a thong, not quite a bikini... It's like a micro bikini, which I actually find quite comfortable. As you can see, I made myself a few pairs.

I recently bought myself a Gossard Retrolution Bra  (which I love!), and my black satin and lace panties match it almost perfectly!  I am slowly phasing out my woven satins in place of these spandex satins.  They are much more comfy and easier to fit. 

I had actually forgotten how exciting it is to have new lingerie! It makes me get excited to get up and get dressed each morning... I have made a new pledge that once a week (time permitting) I will sew for myself.  That might mean, sewing myself something to wear, or just sewing new designs.  It keeps that creative spirit strong.

Yesterday I cut the Sewaholic Minoru. I didn't sew a muslin, and was happy to find that the size 8 fit pretty much perfectly! I didn't do any alterations at all, other than adding side seam pockets.  I am going to throw the lining in today, since I am in desperate need of a coat right now, then get back to work.  I bought this pattern about a year... maybe two years ago... and I'm just getting around to using it now!!! How time flies!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Moving On

I can hardly believe it's only been three weeks since my miscarriage.  I feel like I have been going through this for an eternity.  Why do the good times seem to fly by so fast but the hard times drag on forever? My wedding happened in the blink of an eye.  But this, I feel like I could write a novel about.

The last few weeks have been rough, but mostly I am feeling better.  Physically, I feel back to normal. I am getting active again, working out again, trying to do all of those things I used to do to make myself feel good.  Mentally, I get better day by day. Mostly, I just feel an odd sense of being "lost."  I am having a hard time finding purpose in my every day life and tasks. I know this will change as time passes.  I am trying to plan small getaways, lunches with friends... trying to give myself things to look forward to.  But, I won't lie, it's hard and it's an effort.

Mostly, I get through my days without incident now. Thursdays are always hard.  It makes me think of that Thursday. Thursdays are the weekly anniversaries.  Soon I will remember it monthly, then yearly... then I hope the pain will become a distant memory. Knowing that this will get better feels good, but I am impatient.

Strange things make me remember it, even on days when I think I am doing ok.  The thought of knitting brings me to tears.  I was going to knit things for the baby.  Family get-togethers make me uncomfortable... I feel like I have nothing of importance to say. Certain things that I ate while I was pregnant are just unappetizing now, because it reminds me of what I had and what I lost.  It is so strange how this grief manifests itself, and those things that grief attaches itself to.  It's unlike anything I have experienced before...

But, mostly I am doing ok. I think from here on out, things will get easier.  From here, I hope I will start a new chapter.  I think the first month is the hardest. I am actively trying to stay positive.  When a negative thought enters my head, I purposely make the effort to move acknowledge it, then move on.  Getting messages from others who have been through a similar situation is really touching.  I know it's hard to talk about, but it feels good to know you're not alone.

Business has been busy, which although stressful, is a blessing.  I am running a few days behind and am lucky to have very patient customers (thank you!). I have pulled a couple of late nights and early mornings, and will work this weekend to try to get back on track.

Dan and I went to Toronto last weekend.  I haven't spent much time there since I moved. It felt pretty strange being there. I definitely felt like a country bumpkin.

We got a hotel for the night, had dinner with my Abbey and her boyfriend, went to the Art Gallery, then the Royal Ontario Museum on Sunday.  It was nice. I wish we could afford to do that more!

I don't know much about art, but Cornelius Krieghoff's Images of Canada paintings were my favourite.  Some were quirky, others beautiful, they all told a story.

The ROM is one of my favourite places in the world.  We saw the Mesopotamia exhibit, it was was ok, but not as exciting as I hoped.  What I really loved was the Gems & Minerals exhibit.  It was amazing! The highlight of my trip (I am such a nerd...).

Hidden away on the fourth floor was a small costume and textiles exhibit.  The coolest part of this was the black lace Alexander McQueen gown, and the Worth Gown.

Last weekend was also Thanksgiving.  We played it low key, family wise.  We got Oliver out for a nice walk in the woods, which I hope to do tomorrow as well.  Oliver loves to frolic in the woods. Frolicking is what pugs do best.

Friday, October 4, 2013

ETSY POLICY UPDATES Pt 2: An Insider Perspective

Yesterday I had the very amazing opportunity to speak to someone at Etsy about their recent policy change.  Having someone reach out to me to discuss the struggles I am dealing with was a huge deal for me, and although the policy change is here to stay, and I may not 100% agree with it, it was very reassuring to speak with someone about the challenges they have internally and how it may impact my shop and me as a buyer.  Etsy may be young, but it is a relatively large company with millions of users. It felt empowering to know that they actually are listening.

I've been thinking about the policy change a lot lately, and discussing it with my friends inside and outside of Etsy.  I'm with Etsy for the long-haul; although I do plan to diversify my selling venues, I can't leave Etsy.  I co-lead a Team, I have friends there, I am an obsessive treasury maker... The community is what keeps me at Etsy, and this particular Etsy Staff Member's ability to reach out to me when I was having serious concerns about the future of Etsy really made an impact on me.

At the Town Hall Meeting, when the changes were announced, someone asked the question "What's not handmade?"  I immediately think that something factory produced is not handmade.  I think you would all agree with me, and I think that Etsy understands how their new policies are problematic in this way.  The new policy makes it clear that manufacturing or 3rd party assistance is entirely acceptable, but shops who want to use this type of outside help have to apply to do so. I am very interested to see what happens over the winter, and what types of manufacturing actually gets through the Etsy filter. I am hopeful that Etsy will maintain high standards for the type of production that is being used.

It is my understanding that Applications for Manufacturing Assistance will be screened by the Integrity Team.  Etsy is increasing the staffing by 30% in this division, so I am hopeful that the screening process will be quick on behalf of legitimate sellers, and thorough on behalf of the integrity of the marketplace. As I mentioned in my last post, shops who are on Etsy who currently use 3rd party manufacturing will have to voluntarily submit the application, but if they do not, and they get flagged, and it is found that their manufacturing use is outside of what Etsy permits, they will be removed from the site.  It will be very interesting to see which shops voluntarily begin to disclose this information, which shops change venues, and which shops are found to not be Etsy "legal" (I'm sure there will be some).

Etsy's challenge going forward, aside from this screening process, will be to clearly display to customers which shops use manufacturing assistance (and to what extent) and which shops are "handmade".  There have been some ideas floating around the forums, like a badge system, or I had the thought last night of a  6th picture on each listing page which tells the potential buyer whether the item is "Hand Crafted," "Hand Assembled," "Manufactured in the USA," etc., I actually like both ideas.  As I said in my first post, I support shops being able to hire help (I have an assistant come in one day a week myself). Creating Jobs, especially within our own communities, is an amazing thing that we can do as shop owners.  I am apprehensive about overseas production, because we can't be there to oversee the employment conditions, but if there are ways that good jobs can be created in developing countries, I support that too.  There just needs to be a way to clearly, and visually define this to a potential buyer, because I know from my experience on Etsy that people really do care!  And, I know from my experience buying something on Etsy that was drop shipped and I suspect was not handmade, that you really do feel cheated when you think you are supporting an independent artisan in PEI, to find out your few-of-a-kind t-shirt came from a factory in Timbuktu.  Sellers production methods, whether handmade or factory produced will be stated on the listing page, however, as a seller & a buyer, I can say that people (myself included) rarely read the fine print.  Etsy is marketed as Handmade Marketplace, and handmade is what people expect. I am very interested to see the ways in which Etsy differentiates the two types of shops.

I am happy to hear that Etsy is taking this seriously, and is looking for ways to clearly differentiate handmade sellers from independent designers.  I wish that there had been a plan in place before the policy change, but I can appreciate the position they are in, and making huge changes like this are never easy.

I am also hopeful that this new system will help buyers who truly want to buy a handmade item weed out the factory produced pieces.  I really want to stress that I have no problem with artists/designers/creators using responsible factory assistance.  Businesses grow, and I am struggling with that demand myself, my problem is with the transparency.   There's that word again. After talking with Etsy yesterday, I feel pretty confident that they really do take this seriously. As a positive spin, those of use who do create with our hands, hopefully it will be easier for buyers who truly want "handmade" to identify us now.

An interesting topic that was brought up in the forums recently, and in my conversation yesterday was how handmade does something have to be to be considered "handmade".  For instance, in my category there are shops who take pre-made bras and panties and embellish them, and there are shops who draft, cut, sew, and embellish everything from scratch.  Are they both equally handmade?  A jeweler who has a pendant cast by a 3rd party must now disclose that they use a manufacturer to do so, but a hobbyist who puts a pre-made pendant on a pre-made chain can be considered " 100% handmade." I don't really know what my opinion is on this or if a distinction really needs to be made... but it is an interesting debate, and no matter what Etsy does they can't please everyone.

I think the fact that shop owners and buyers have reacted so passionately to this change says something big. People care about supporting creativity and craftsmanship, and for me, that seriously brings a happy tear to my eye.  People care about where and how their goods are made, and that is something that is really important to me.  People care about the community that has been created on Etsy, it's a community that has changed my life in amazing ways.  People care about integrity.  It may be rough, dealing with change, but it also is a reminder of how much we really care. Etsy is so much  more than just a place to shop; it is a community, it is a set of values.

So, it will be an interesting few months.  I am going to try to be hopeful that this will actually benefit my shop by displaying more prominently to customers the way in which I produce my lingerie, and after speaking to someone at Etsy, I can really appreciate their position.  I still don't love the policy changes, but I am hopeful that this will actually help Etsy identify our handmade shops, and hopefully give us a little extra love.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Etsy Policy Updates: Redefining Handmade

Oh boy, this has been a tumultuous week for me.

Yesterday, Chad Dickerson, the CEO of Etsy announced some major changes to how sellers are allowed to run their shops on Etsy. I don't foresee it changing how I run my shop in the near future, but I do see it changing how I buy on Etsy.

Etsy started out with a simple mission - Etsy is a place to "Buy and sell handmade or vintage items, art and supplies..." "the world's most vibrant handmade marketplace.."  Previously, sellers could run what was known as a "collective" where multiple people helped in the production/fulfillment process.  Each member of the collective would have to be disclosed on the sellers About Me Page.  Some shops were also permitted to use "production assistance." At first, it was my understanding that this allowed sellers to outsource a step in their production process, so it would be OK for a jeweler to have a pendant cast by a 3rd party in a mold that they had made, or for a potter to send their work out to be fired, or a clothing maker to have fabric professional printed with a design that they created. As time went on, the lines started getting blurred and it was unclear how much of the process could be outsourced.

Here is what has changed:

1. Etsy Shop owners can now employ an infinite number of people.  When you are shopping on Etsy now, you may be buying from a shop like mine.  I do it all, though I do have a helper come in 1 day a week to help me cut garments.  You could also potentially be buying from a shop that employs 50 people, located in different parts of a world - a customer service rep in Canada, a shipper in USA, an embroider in India, etc, etc.  It is my understanding that shop employees must be disclosed on the seller's About Page. Being able to employ people, especially locally is important, and I understand Etsy's rational behind this decision, but what kind of jobs are being created by individual sellers is something that maybe should be considered.

2. Etsy Shop owners can have a factory produce their "handmade" items. Shops that use manufacturers to produce their goods must go through an application process, and disclose this on their About Page. The location of the factory must also be disclosed, but not the factory name.  If supporting artists and makers is important to you, or you are worried about where your items are coming from and if they are ethically made, you may have to do a little more research now.  

3. Etsy Shop owners can now drop ship packages.  Drop shipping means that the package either ships to you directly from the manufacturer, from a shipping center, or from any 3rd party shipper. This shouldn't impact buyers too much, other than the fact that the seller or "artist" may have never even touched the item you are about to receive, and to me, the process seems a little impersonal. However, I can see how this would be beneficial for some sellers, though it doesn't apply to me.

And here's the Big One:
4. Etsy has redefined the term "handmade." In order for something to be considered "Handmade" the selller must be able to demonstrate three things.
     a. Authorship - The handmade item must begin with you.
     b. Responsibilty - You must be able to demonstrate an understanding of the production process.
     c. Transparancy - You must be open and honest about your production process.

Etsy says they are making this change to help sellers, and I can see where they are coming from.  They don't want successful sellers to feel that they are "too successful" for Etsy, or to feel like they can't keep up with supply and demand with out using outside help. I get that. I get that employing people is important, and I favor that change.

But, I have a fundamental problem with the redefinition. Chad Dickerson says that Etsy is all about the story behind the purchase.  There is no interesting story in a supply/production chain.  There is an interesting story in a person that artfully crafts something by hand, who has mastered an art or skill, who can customize something to your liking, who can work directly with you to help create your vision or design something just for you.  

Here's the thing with this new policy change. I'm going to use my shop as a hypothetical example.  I could design a fancy pair of panties, by which I mean, I could come up with a technical illustration showing the seam lines, and details.  I could, theoretically, hand that to a designer to select and source fabrics and trims.  I could then hand my illustration to a pattern maker to draft & grade the pattern for me.  After that, I could send my pattern and materials to a factory in Bangledesh, and have them sew me 500 pieces.  I could then ship those items to a fulfillment center in the USA (where most of my orders ship), and have them ship out pieces as needed. I have still "designed" the garment, demonstrating authorship.  I understand the production process, and how to sew it, demonstrating responsibility.  I will disclose the location of the factory I use, and the name of my designer and pattern maker on my About Me Page, demonstrating transparency.  According to Etsy, my item is handmade.  

If I want to use a factory, I have will voluntarily submit to an application process and assure Etsy that I am not using child/slave/forced labour, and that I understand my production process. It is up to Etsy's discretion to approve or deny my application. Etsy will not audit factories or workrooms, it is up to the seller to choose a factory/workroom that is ethically run. A shop that does not disclose their production assistance, employees, or submit a manufacturing application, can be removed from Etsy if it is proven that they are violating the Terms of Use. However, there are currently many shops that do not disclose their use production assistance, or extent of "collective" help, despite the fact that those are the "rules", so I am slightly curious as to why Etsy thinks this will now change.  It will remain the responsibility of Etsy Users to flag shops that they suspect may be violating the terms of use.

We can debate to the moon and back what is "handmade" and what isn't, but I don't think anyone would consider the process I just described to be "handmade." But, in Etsy's attempt to make the guidelines more clear, I think they have become much more convoluted.  The scenario I described above fits exactly into Etsy's definition of Handmade.  It will be the buyers responsibility to read the sellers About Page to see exactly what goes into their "handmade" item.

I believe that there is a general understanding of what a handmade item is.  I asked my husband this morning, "If you ordered something off Etsy, under the impression that Etsy was a site to buy handmade or artisan goods, but and you received it and it had a 'Made in Taiwan' label, how would you feel?" He thought for a moment then said, "First, ripped off.  Second, lied to."

That's my thing. Etsy has sold itself to consumers as a handmade marketplace, and this expansion is deceptive. As a shop owner, I can see the desire to want to expand your business, but in my opinion Etsy can be a few things to shop owners, and is not a selling venue for everyone or every product.  It can be an excellent launching point for sellers whose goal is to one day manufacture on a larger scale - you can meet potential retailers, create a customer base, and establish a name.  It can also be an excellent venue for sellers who want to manufacture by hand on a smaller scale.  I suppose there is a potential third, and that would be how I envision my business: I'd like to have a line that I could sell wholesale, and I would outsource the production to a local workroom.  I would also have a Made to Order line that is made by me and sold exclusively on Etsy.  I would do that because there is retail demand that I cannot fulfill for my items.  Working through a workroom on a retail line would be an excellent way for me to do that. I would continue a handmade line because that is my passion.

I don't think the majority of sellers will go to the mass production route.  First, it takes money upfront, and I don't know many artists/craftspeople who just happen to have that type or cash on hand, or credit available.  Second, it takes a lot of time and planning to do any kind of production run, and most of the sellers I know (myself included), do not have the time to invest.  I know this because I have worked for small mom and pop companies that have done this, and I am looking/have looked into this for my own purposes.

I do think it will open the door to many designers and brands who have no hand in the production process. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being that kind of designer! But, to me, there is something deceptive about selling that item as a "handmade" item. 

This is going to change the playing field.  Every shop owner has certain advantages and disadvantages, but before it felt fairly even. In my case, living in a very small town, I don't have many skilled people I can easily employ.  I am morally opposed to outsourcing my production overseas, yet finding a local workroom to sew lingerie at a price I can afford, is a huge challenge for me. A seller living in Brooklyn has more opportunity to hire a seamstress, or find a local workroom.  I have to admit, I'm feeling some unwanted pressure to outsource, outsource, outsource (or move, move, move!), and I am not entirely sure how I can stay relevant, based on Etsy's new Guidelines.

The spirit of Etsy is changing.  This is the thing that makes me the most sad.  I felt nurtured as an independent maker on Etsy, and I don't feel that way anymore; none of the changes really help me, as an independent maker who likes being an independent maker.  Prior to yesterday, I felt like I could run a successful business out of a small studio in little Orillia, Ontario, Canada, working with my hands, and now I feel worried that soon I won't be able to compete this way anymore.  I hope these are just fears I am feeling, and I hope they do not become justified.  

I love Etsy, but I can't agree with all of these policy changes, and as someone who pays fees each month to be a vendor there, I feel I have a right to express those concerns.  Lately, I feel like we've been getting a lot of corporate double speak (if I hear the word "transparency" one more time...), but no real answers to many questions, or fixes to the problems that seller have been asking for for years (accurate shipping calculators, anyone?).  At the Town Hall, Chad Dickerson started out the discussion talking about how different Etsy is, how it's like no other marketplace.  If it's so different, why have they instated an Amazon/Ebay-inspired rating system for products? If Etsy is unlike any other website, why does it now strongly resemble Pinterest? How does including mass-produced items make Etsy any different from Modcloth, or Ebay, just as two examples? What makes Etsy Different now? That's something I'm really struggling with.  

I would love to hear your thoughts on the redefinition of "handmade," or the marketing of "handmade."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thank You

 I really want to thank everyone for your kind words, and especially those of you who shared your stories with me.  When you are experiencing a loss, it is reassuring to know you are not alone; that others have made it through.  It has really been a big help.  I am always amazed by how kind and caring you all are.  It makes me feel extra fortunate.

Dan went back to work on Monday.  I had my cousin over to keep me company.  I got a bit of work done, mailed out one order, and cut a few things... we spent the rest of the afternoon making ourselves some slippers.  I made mine out of some plaid flannel, and floral cotton for lining.  We appliqued non-slip hearts onto the soles.  I have made these slippers twice now for myself.  The pattern is from  I made one minor adjustment this time, and made the upper foot part a little lower cut.

Friday and Saturday were pretty rough.  I finished the misoprostol on Friday, but was feeling pretty uncomfortable into Saturday.  We went out on Saturday to Ikea, of all places.  I felt like getting out would give me a good distraction from what had been going on.  It did, but the walking was not easy... We picked out a new couch, and bought some new shelves and knick knacks for in the living room.  I spent the rest of the weekend cleaning and rearranging.  It felt good to give the house a bit of a make over.

We went for Sunday Dinner at my parents house.  That was pretty hard for me, and I think for Dan too, but I have wanted to get back into my normal routine as quickly as possible.  I've been trying to get out and do things I enjoy, even if it is hard.  Thanksgiving is coming up in a couple of weeks and I am absolutely dreading it.  I normally look forward to family occasions, but it's going to be a rough one this year.  I'm still not 100% sure I want to go. This might be a good year to maybe go away for the holidays...

 I am incredibly grateful  for my little Oliver these days.  It is just so good to have a little animal companion during tough times.  We've spent lots of time cuddling the last few days....

Today, I will follow up with my doctor, and hopefully will be able to put this all behind me soon.  I am really looking forward to feeling 'normal' again.